The Hello Darlins deliver a classy and sophisticated wash of Canadian country-pop, with echoes of Alison Krauss guesting with Fleetwood Mac.
Release date: 12th August 2021
Label: Self Released
Format: Vinyl /CD / Digital (via Bandcamp)
Sorry, late to the party for this one, which actually slipped out in the summer, but that still eminently deserves a delayed recognition, despite the, let’s admit, pretty dodgy band name, which, over here at least, recalls the spectre of Charlie Drake. Plus, let’s not forget the unconnected and unrelated Allo Darlin’, indie, um, darlings of about a decade ago, the project and band of Australian chantoozie Elizabeth Morris, with a few low key hits to their name.
That out the way, this is a new band and this is their debut. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, The Hello Darlins are yet another of the never ending wash of superlative artists making first class country music from Canada, Canadiana, or, as the band themselves call it, North Americana. Call it what you will, it is distinctive and heady stuff, potent moonshine from a country where it was never prohibited.
Candace Lacina is understandably the focus, her clear voice carrying strong, if twangier, reminders of Alison Krauss. A singer of merit, she has previously been an in demand vocalist behind other Canadian talent from Tegan and Sara to Shania Twain. When she hooked up again with session keyboards ace, Mike Little, after a six year hiatus, they together concocted the idea of the Hello Darlin’s. And a good idea it was too, to form a band without any strict sense of structure or membership, but to take advantage of the cream of Canadian session men and women, seasoned veterans all, picking and choosing from a pack of winning cards all, depending on availability. They have compared themselves, in that sense, to fellow compatriots, Broken Social Scene. Toto might be a better reference.
A run of three singles bought them a lot of attention and airplay, at home and across the border, with entrails shooting out into other nations with strong, if often under the radar, country roots, so Australia, Europe and the UK and Ireland. Buoyed by that encouragement, Go By Feel is the result, their first full length release. The core duo are joined by a bevy of musicians with track records in bands such as Crash Test Dummies and, personal favourites, The Bros. Landreth, on all manner of instrumentation, rounded off, briefly, on the final hidden track, by Canada’s Mr Fiddle, Shane Guse. As seasoned pros, never does the collective sound ad hoc or contrived, the sense of them being a band right to the fore, helped by the capable production hands of Mike Poole, studio mixer and engineer for Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin and Robert Plant amongst many others, including their joint Band of Joy project.
So how does it hang? The opener, Catch That Train, starts with a down-home strum that lets you know everything’s going to be fine, with ripples of guitar, and, of course, it’s like a train whistle, weaving around Lacina’s vocal, ahead the rhythm section kicking in, paired by the reassuring swell of Little’s Hammond B3. The chorus nails the Mac sensibilities and it’s a solid start. Like many of the songs, it’s a co-write between Lacina, Little and the ex-Crash test Dummy guitarist, Murray Pulver. As is Lonely In Las Vegas, which follows as a slow AOR ballad with a gradual build, the piano providing the emotional hench as the rest of the band soar around it.
The title track starts with a southern soul clipped rhythm guitar, the melody one I can imagine Solomon Burke coveting and I am feeling this is all bedding in just fine. The guitar solo, by Russell Broom, continues the mood and ambience with just as few notes as it needs, and I think we have a winner.
A change of vocal, as Joey Landreth picks up the reins for Aberdeen, with mandolin providing the main backing, although the soft introduction of Little, this time on accordion, adds a soothing cocoon to it all, with Landreth then sealing it with some sublime dobro. Aberdeen, Saskatoon, I’m guessing, but it is actually about a horse. Another male voice is also featured on Still Waters, one of the early singles, that being of Canadian bluesman, Matt Anderson, a steel-drenched duet with Lacina, his voice as earthy and weathered as an old maple tree, with the same internal sweetness coming through. It is written by Clayton Bellamy, as is the next track, another musician world famous in Canada, erstwhile member of the Roadhammers. For each of these the steel is provided by Matt Kelly. The second song, Mountain Time, suffers a little by the comparison with the others, being a little generic.
Smokin’ Gun is back on stronger ground, a chug that builds up from a dobro into something beefier, the backing vocals particularly affecting here, as is the other Landreth brother, David, on lyrical bass, high in the mix. The instrumental coda, as all instruments play together, harks back to the work of fellow Canadians, the Cowboy Junkies. Which is just the contrast to heighten the feel of Never Get Over You, a good ol’ jukebox weepie, which introduces a third lead male voice, that of Brett Ashton, who has just the plaintive tenor such lyrics demand. As I could say on every single track, Little’s organ is just terrific, all mood and no look at me.
Prayer For a Sparrow is the sort of song that Dolly Parton can sing and have you forget all her hype and image, leaking sentimentality all over the floor, yet still retaining a consummate credibility, which is no mean feat, given this is another one from Lacina/Little/Pulver, if also clearly paying a debt to Parton’s own Little Sparrow. This imitation, slightly, being more an homage, flatters each of them. That sense of winding down oozes then into Where You Are, simpler still again, with acoustic guitars, organ, aching vocals, a paean to love lost. As it fades, a build of strings, real and mellotronic, give a premature sense of closure, before dropping back to just voice, guitar and the omnipresent organ. A brief gap, and closure is now truly guaranteed, with the instrumental minute or so of Farewell River Rouge, an almost hebridean lament, Lacina keening gently over a desolate fiddle and piano reverie.
This is classy fare from The Hello Darlins and one that I hope the collective can build upon. Others elsewhere have suggested what was easier to build in lockdown may be harder to sustain as the world re-opens. I see no reason why and look forward to seeing what the road model may look like, whether as a duo or the full nine-piece.
Here’s the opening track from the new album from The Hello Darlins.